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Encinitas to continue allowing ‘street dining’ areas until at least 2024

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Council unanimously agrees to extend coronavirus-related easing of parking regulations

A temporary regulatory change that allowed Coast Highway 101 restaurants to create outdoor dining areas in roadside parking spots at the start of the coronavirus pandemic will continue until at least 2024, the Encinitas City Council unanimously decided Wednesday, April 27.

“I support anything that creates space for people and not cars,” Councilmember Tony Kranz said as he explained why he was voting in favor.

Councilmember Joe Mosca said he would endorse both continuing this temporary measure and creating a “more permanent policy in the future,” while Councilmember Joy Lyndes said she definitely hoped new applicants would be allowed to benefit from decisions to continue the temporary regulatory changes.

“It’s great that we all agree with each other,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear declared.

Councilmember Kellie Shay Hinze, a former executive director of the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association, joined her colleagues in supporting the proposal, but said city officials shouldn’t forget about the parking needs of non-restaurant businesses along the popular coastal highway route. If the outdoor dining areas on city parking spots eventually become permanent, the city may want to look at charging the restaurants rent for use of the space, she said, adding that the revenue could help pay for a downtown shuttle service.

Many cities in California eased their regulations to help struggling businesses when the pandemic hit. In early March 2020, after the governor signed a COVID-19 State of Emergency declaration, the Encinitas City Council agreed to permit restaurants to sell alcohol as a to-go order or with food deliveries. A few weeks later, the council also agreed to ease other rules — parking requirements were waived, restaurants were allowed to build outdoor seating areas on city parking spots, and alcohol could be served in those new spaces.

Kris Buchanan, owner of GOODONYA organic eatery, told the council Wednesday, April 27, that the permission to use the public right-of-way parking spots greatly helped her business during the pandemic.

“Tables are money … so if we can keep them, it’s going to help our bottom line,” she said.

She added that there are other benefits to the new outdoor eating areas that city officials might not have considered, including the fact that they are lit at night and that makes the coastal corridor more inviting.

Earlier this year, city officials had thought the temporary permission to use the parking spots for outdoor dining would have to come to an end in June, even though the state Legislature approved a bill — Assembly Bill 61 — allowing cities to continue providing such regulatory relief as they saw fit.

“The original direction from the California Coastal Commission was that AB61 does not apply to outdoor dining within public right-of-way areas,” an Encinitas City staff report notes. “However, the Coastal Commission staff has changed direction and issued a new interpretation that AB 61 applies to outdoor dining within the public right-of-way areas, including on-street parking spaces and sidewalks.”

It adds that the provisions of the new state law will be in effect until Jan. 1, 2024.

Plans are in the works to make the changes in Encinitas permanent. In December, the council directed city staff to start the process to gain state Coastal Commission approval to allow the outdoor dining areas to remain.


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